Archive for June, 2016

UN warns 20,000 children are trapped in Iraq’s Fallujah

June 01, 2016

BAGHDAD (AP) — The U.N. children’s fund on Wednesday issued a stark warning to Iraqi troops and Islamic State militants in the battle for Fallujah to spare the children, the most vulnerable among the tens of thousands of civilians who remain trapped by the fighting for control of this city west of Baghdad.

Backed by aerial support from the U.S.-led coalition and paramilitary forces mainly made up of Shiite militias, Iraqi government troops more than a week ago launched a military operation to recapture Fallujah which has been under control of the extremist group for more than two years.

As the battled unfolded — with Iraqi forces this week pushing into the city’s southern sections after securing surrounding towns and villages — more than 50,000 people are believed to be trapped inside the Sunni majority city, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of Baghdad.

The UNICEF estimated the number of the children trapped with their families inside the city at about 20,000, warning that they face a dire humanitarian situation, in addition to the risk of forced recruitment into the fighting by the IS militants.

“Children who are forcibly recruited into the fighting see their lives and futures jeopardized as they are forced to carry and use arms, fighting an adults’ war,” the organization said in a statement. It called on “all parties to protect children inside Fallujah” and “provide safe passage to those wishing to leave the city.”

Fallujah was the first large city in Iraq to fall to IS and it is the last major urban area controlled by the extremist group in western Iraq. The Sunni-led militants still control the country’s second-largest city, Mosul, in the north, as well as smaller towns and patches of territory in the country’s west and north.

The fight for Fallujah is expected to be protracted because the Islamic State group has had more than two years to dig in. Hidden bombs are believed to be strewn throughout the city, and the presence of trapped civilians will limit the use of supporting airstrikes.

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Iraqi army suffers substantial losses in Fallujah

May 30, 2016

The Iraqi army is reported to have suffered heavy losses during the sixth day of an assault to retake the city of Fallujah from Daesh. As many as ten Iraqi soldiers and allied militiamen were killed in a suicide bombing in the south-east of the city, Al-Jazeera has reported. Seven militiamen were also killed in another attack by the militant group near Amiriyah Al-Fallujah, to the west of Baghdad.

Fierce battles have been reported by witnesses in the town of Saqlawiyah, north-west of Fallujah, especially in Alboshgeul, where the militants attacked Iraqi troops with car bombs. The Iraqi army has advanced towards Fallujah from the north-east and reached Alsijir, which now stands between it and the city’s northern neighborhoods.

Army sources said that 40 soldiers and militiamen were killed and others were wounded, including a very senior officer, in a surprise attack by Daesh against Heit, in the west of Al-Anbar Province. The sources added that militants had crossed the Euphrates in the dead of night and launched an attack against the city, 30 kilometers west of Ramadi, and now controlled several neighborhoods. Dozens of families have been forced to flee from the fighting.

The Iraqi forces, with air support from the international coalition, pushed Daesh to withdraw from Heit more than a month ago.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160530-iraqi-army-suffers-substantial-losses-in-fallujah/.

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Iraqi MP: Army airstrikes are killing civilians in Fallujah

May 27, 2016

Scores of civilians have been killed in the ongoing Fallujah operation as a result of the Iraqi army’s airstrikes, the head of the Iraqi parliament’s human rights committee said today.

In an interview with the Anadolu Agency, Arshad Al-Salihi said tens of thousands of civilians live in Fallujah and suffer because of Daesh. They are also struggling to survive amid the random airstrikes by the Iraqi forces.

“These people are stuck between Daesh and the Iraqi army’s airstrikes,” Al-Salihi said, asserting that the government has not provided civilians a safe exit route from the area.

On Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi announced the launch of a military campaign to regain control of Fallujah from Daesh with the participation of the Iraqi army, counter-terrorism units, the federal police, the Popular Mobilisation Forces and tribal fighters.

“It would be better for the civilians of Mosul and Tal Afar to abandon both cities for the time being,” Al-Salihi said, saying they may face the same fate of Fallujah’s civilians during similar operations.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160527-iraqi-mp-army-airstrikes-are-killing-civilians-in-fallujah/.

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Iraq kicks off historic Fallujah operation against Islamic State

Mohammed A. Salih

May 23, 2016

Iraqi security forces have launched Operation Break Terrorism in collaboration with the Shiite-dominated Popular Mobilization Units and local Sunni tribal mobilization forces to drive the Islamic State (IS) from the key town of Fallujah, the last major IS stronghold in western Anbar province.

Fallujah, long a bastion of anti-government insurgent groups, was one of the first areas in Iraq to fall to IS and its allies in January 2014, months before the group overran Mosul and other Sunni-dominated parts of the country.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered the launch of the operation in the early hours of May 23, saying, “There is no option for Daesh [IS] except to flee,” referring to the group by its common Arabic acronym.

The operation was launched from the southeast, southwest, northwest and northern flanks of Fallujah, according to Karim al-Nuri, a spokesman for the mobilization units who spoke to Al-Monitor via phone from the Karmah area to the southeast of Fallujah, some 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of Baghdad.

“Their [IS] resistance has not been as heavy as we have been expecting,” said Nuri. “They have been relying on vehicle-borne suicide attacks, planted bombs and snipers so far.”

IS supporters’ accounts on Twitter circulated what appeared to be an official announcement from IS’ Fallujah Wilaya, which claimed that 16 Iraqi forces were killed in a suicide car bomb attack east of Fallujah.

Nuri said that over 10,000 mobilization unit forces have been taking “an active part in the battle,” adding that his forces are cooperating with Iraqi security forces as well as tribal Sunni fighters. The Shiite paramilitaries have surrounded Fallujah since last summer.

The US-led coalition also carried out seven airstrikes in the Fallujah area between May 14 and May 20 in preparation for the assault.

US forces are currently involved in Operation Break Terrorism by advising Iraqi forces. But Col. Steve Warren, the US military spokesman in Baghdad, has told Fox News that the US-led coalition is not going to “drop bombs in support of the Shiite militias” who are based on the outskirts of Fallujah. The United States has been worried about the involvement of Shiite paramilitaries in offensives in Sunni areas because those forces are largely supported by Iran.

According to Warren, between 500 and 1,000 IS fighters are believed to have remained inside Fallujah.

No figures have been released by Iraqi authorities about the overall number of forces taking part in the battle of Fallujah, but some Iraqi news outlets have pointed out that as many as 20,000 federal police units have also joined the operation.

Iraqi forces appear to have made some progress. Local media reported that Iraqi forces killed Abu Hamza, IS governor of Fallujah, and another senior leader known as Abu Amr al-Ansari on May 23. Gen. Abdulwahab al-Saedi, the commander of the Fallujah operation, said May 23 that IS forces have fled the battlefield in the Karmah and Saqlawiyah areas in the eastern and northern sides of Fallujah. Saedi also told Iraqi news media that Iraqi forces had taken the district of Karmah, 13 kilometers (8 miles) east of Fallujah on the first day of the operation.

The attack on Fallujah by Iraqi forces came after an important victory in the nearby town of Rutba in Anbar on May 19. In December, Iraqi forces also recaptured Anbar’s provincial capital, Ramadi, from IS.

Fallujah is now the last major urban center in Anbar still under the control of IS jihadis.

“Taking Fallujah will be a big blow to IS,” Ahmed Ali, a senior fellow at the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani’s Institute of Regional and International Studies (IRIS), told Al-Monitor.

“Strategically, [the success of this operation will mean] IS will not be as close to Baghdad as now, as Fallujah is the strongest IS-controlled point to Baghdad,” he said.

But pushing IS out of Fallujah will not mean the end of IS in Anbar province, which occupies around one-third of Iraq’s area. Ali believes the extremist group will most likely relocate to the vast deserts of Anbar, “which will be very difficult to control.”

Prior to the launch of the operation, the Iraqi military called on Fallujah’s residents to evacuate the town. A day before the offensive, the town’s mayor had told the official Iraqi news agency, NINA, that over 50,000 civilians were still trapped inside the town.

An important element of the Fallujah operation is the relationship between the Shiite Popular Mobilization Units and the local Sunni forces. In the past, local Sunnis and rights groups accused the mobilization units of abusing Sunnis in areas such as Tikrit and Diyala.

But Nuri said there is no reason for concern now.

“We are fighting with [Sunni] tribal forces from the area and this is the biggest testament of the level of trust between us,” Nuri said.

Amid the political turmoil that has engulfed Iraq in recent months and culminated in attacks by angry protesters on Abadi’s and parliament’s offices, a victory in Fallujah will be a boost to the embattled prime minister, given the symbolic and strategic value of the town.

“A battlefield victory will bolster Abadi’s position and help him dictate the points of the political agenda in Iraq,” said Ali.

Source: al-Monitor.

Link: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/05/iraq-fallujah-liberation-operation-isis.html.

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Bahrain suspends main Shiite opposition party amid crackdown

June 14, 2016

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Bahrain suspended the country’s largest Shiite opposition group in a surprise court hearing Tuesday, intensifying its crackdown on dissent five years after Arab Spring protests rocked the island kingdom.

The Al-Wefaq opposition group has been suspended before amid turmoil over the protests and lingering unrest. The small Shiite-majority island off the coast of Saudi Arabia is ruled by a Sunni monarchy, which has imprisoned several activists and deported others.

A statement from the Justice and Islamic Affairs Ministry carried on the state-run Bahrain News Agency accused Al-Wefaq of creating “a new generation that carries the spirit of hatred,” and of having links with “sectarian and extremist political parties that adopt terrorism.” It said a court in Manama ordered the party suspended and its funds frozen.

Abdulla al-Shamlawi, the lawyer who represented Al-Wefaq in court, denied all the allegations. He said he was served the court papers only Tuesday morning for the hearing and had to argue to be allowed to offer any sort of rebuttal. He said the complaint alleged Al-Wefaq had damaged Bahrain’s national security since its inception in 2001 and also included allegations about it causing unrest during the 2011 protests.

“It was out of the blue,” al-Shamlawi told The Associated Press. “They say Al-Wefaq is the sole danger to national security.” He said the court set an Oct. 6 hearing to decide whether to “liquidate” the party — meaning the island’s biggest opposition group could be entirely dismantled.

He said Al-Wefaq “presumably” would appeal the court’s ruling, though the order suspending the party would stand unless an appeals court acts to lift it. By late Tuesday afternoon, police had surrounded Al-Wefaq’s headquarters and took down its banners and posters while carrying away material inside, witnesses said.

In May, a Bahraini appeals court more than doubled a prison sentence for Al-Wefaq’s secretary-general, Sheikh Ali Salman. Salman now faces nine years behind bars, up from an earlier four, following his conviction last year on charges that included incitement and insulting the Interior Ministry.

Prosecutors meanwhile announced Tuesday that they’d launched investigations into three Shiite Islamist organizations and seized their assets on money-laundering allegations. The sudden court case and investigations came a day after authorities detained Nabeel Rajab, a prominent activist and the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.

Rajab, whom King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa previously pardoned over health concerns, faces a charge of spreading “false news,” lawyer Mohammed al-Jishi said on Twitter. Al-Jishi did not respond to requests for comment.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is “concerned about the re-arrest” of Rajab, his spokesman said. Ban “reiterates the right of people to the peaceful exercise of their freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association in Bahrain and everywhere,” Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

Zainab al-Khawaja, another prominent activist, fled to Denmark earlier this month after being released from prison, fearing she would be detained again. The 2011 demonstrations called for greater political freedoms on the island, which is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. The government crushed the protests with the help of troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Since then, the island has seen low-level unrest, protests and attacks on police. Other prominent opposition figures and human rights activists remain imprisoned. Some have been stripped of their citizenship and deported.

In a speech Monday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said at least 250 people lost their citizenship in Bahrain in recent years “because of their alleged disloyalty to the interests of the kingdom.”

Rights groups say Bahrain refused to allow activists to leave the country to attend the Geneva conference where al-Hussein spoke. The raids appear to have been timed to serve as a snub of the U.N. meeting.

Tuesday’s court decision shows Bahrain “is bulldozing its civil society,” said Sayed Ahmed al-Wadaei, the director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy. “Bahrain is only reforming itself into a state of silence and terror,” al-Wadaei said in a statement.

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Bahrain releases prominent activist from prison

May 31, 2016

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Bahraini authorities have released prominent rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja on humanitarian grounds after two and a half months behind bars, her sister told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Zainab al-Khawaja is the daughter of well-known activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who is serving a life sentence over his role in Arab Spring-inspired protests in 2011. Her sister Maryam confirmed her release.

A dual Danish-Bahraini citizen, she was detained on March 14 and faced three years in prison on charges related to her participation in anti-government protests, including tearing up pictures of Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry announced plans to release her earlier this month on account of her year-old son, who was allowed to stay with her in a special prison ward for new mothers.

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Iran to build military bases near Iraq-Saudi border, claims Lebanese cleric

June 11, 2016

A senior Lebanese Shia cleric has claimed that Iran is planning to build military bases in Iraq near the border with Saudi Arabia, AlKhaleejonline.com reported on Friday. Sayed Mohamed Ali Al-Husseini said that the bases will be supervised by Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Speaking to the Italian news agency AKI on Thursday, Al-Husseini claimed that he had received “credible information” from multiple sources who follow Iranian and Iraqi issues closely, that Iran is planning to “crawl” towards Saudi Arabia through its long border with Iraq. Similar measure will be taken on the border with Kuwait, he pointed out.

Al-Husseini is the Secretary General of the Arab-Islamic Council, which is the political reference point for Arab Shia, much as Wilayat Al-Faqih provides political guardianship in Iran. The group is adopted by Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

He told AKI that claims by the Iraqi foreign minister that Iran’s Major-General Qasim Suleimani is simply a “military adviser” in Baghdad are an attempt to cover up his open role targeting the Arabs. “The ongoing battle in Fallujah,” the cleric said, “is a large military parade for Al-Quds Brigade led by Suleimani, which includes militias from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Afghanistan.”

The Arab Shia official added: “Today, there are clear calls by Wilayat Al-Faqih demanding the establishment of Iraqi Revolutionary Guards in the presence of weak and collaborating governments.” He pointed the finger of blame at Arab silence in the face of such Iranian measures and warned that the ambition of Wilayat Al-Faqih might not stop at the Iraqi borders. Targeting Iraq is based mainly on Iran’s vision for its project across the Arab region, he explained. If such plans are not stopped, Al-Husseini concluded, then the whole future of Arab identity is at risk.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160611-iran-to-build-military-bases-near-iraq-saudi-border-claims-lebanese-cleric/.

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